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Current time:0:00Total duration:8:18

Introduction to the Protestant Reformation: Setting the stage

Video transcript

so this is the first video in a short series introducing some of the major ideas of the Protestant Reformation and in this video we just want to lay the groundwork what was it like to live in Europe before the Protestant Reformation that is before 1517 when Martin Luther a German monk and professor of theology nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle Church in Wittenberg and we'll get back to that I was driving around my neighborhood about a week ago and I took photographs of some of the churches that were there and within only 15 or 20 minutes I had photographed the signs in front of six different kinds of churches and this is a really good place to start because it's at the time of the Reformation that we get this explosion of different kinds of Christianity so tell us what you took pictures I took pictures of a Lutheran Church of a Baptist Church of a United Methodist Church there was a Catholic Church there there was a Congregationalist Church it was a Presbyterian Church and so five of those six churches were created as a result of the Protestant Reformation so let's go back to a time when there was only one kind of Christianity in Western Europe and that's the religion we today call Roman Catholicism now we didn't need to use that phrase Roman Catholicism because there was nothing to differentiate it from the term Catholic really means universal and so that makes the point that this was the universal Church or that was their ambition to be the universal Church and we use the term Roman Catholic because the head of the church is in Rome and that's the Pope and that man was enormous ly important because he would lead the way to salvation to heaven according to the Catholic tradition that is one found one's way to salvation which was tremendously important because if the alternative was hell and it's important to remember I think that back then the concern for most people was salvation was how to get to heaven and the path was one path it was through the teachings of the church through the sacraments in a way it was a simpler time to live because you had one choice you didn't have to say what religion should I be except for those very few people in Europe for instance very few Jews and even fewer Muslims so the church really infused everybody's life it was the vehicle to salvation and just for the average person in a small town the church's spire would tower over the other buildings the bells in the tower would ring on the hour the church would celebrate the Saints feast days what we call holidays that is holy days and it was in a sense the church that marked the days of your life and the major events in your life as well and through the sacraments you helped to earn God's grace you helped to secure yourself a place in heaven and the sacraments included Baptism Confirmation communion which you might know as the Eucharist penance also known as confession marriage last rites and ordination for priests and so it's just a good reminder of how important the church was in the lives of everyday people and those everyday people although they might look to their local priests would look to the Pope in Rome as the ultimate authority on earth and the Pope at this point in 1517 was Pope Leo the tenth so Pope Leo the tenth was intent on rebuilding the Church of st. Peter's and the plans for st. Peter's were very ambitious in fact pope julius ii who commissioned the rebuilding of st. peter's the pope before leo the tenth said he wanted to create the most grandiose church in all of Christendom and they did the church itself st. peter's basilica was tremendously important to the authority of the Pope by tradition st. Peter is buried under that church and st. Peter was charged by Christ himself to lead the church and so st. Peter is understood to be the first pope and so every succeeding Pope is taking on the job of st. Peter from Christ himself and so the very authority of the office is vested in this building the problem is the building was really expensive to construct and the question was where were they going to get the money well there was a pretty common way to get money and that was selling indulgences now an indulgence was a piece of paper that made it possible for you to get to heaven more quickly most people when they died you had throughout your life confessed your sins you had atoned for your sins but there would probably be something that you hadn't quite atoned for and so for most people you wouldn't go straight to heaven you would go instead to this place in between a kind of weigh station before you got to heaven a place called purgatory and it was indulgences that brought you time off from purgatory so this is a little tricky because indulgences were actually a very old tradition where if you did a good work you could in fact receive an indulgence that is a kind of certificate that would speed your soul out of purgatory to heaven even in certain extraordinary cases it might allow you to circumvent purgatory entirely and go directly to heaven the problems began not so much in the actual indulgences but in the perception of the selling of indulgences and here's what happened Leo the tenth granted indulgences to his representatives to raise money for the building of st. Peter's but this was misunderstood to mean that one could simply pay money and then gain access to heaven directly but keep in mind that money was for the rebuilding of st. Peter's and so you were doing a good work and according to the Catholic Church doing a good work is one of the ways you can assist in the process of gaining yourself a place in heaven and it does make sense that even a monetary donation to doing good Christian work would be itself a kind of holy act but it did come to be seen as a money exchange for getting to heaven and the one example that really got under Martin Luther's cross so to speak was a man named Tetzel who was selling indulgences not far from Vinton where Luther was professor of theology Tetzel said as soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory Springs so you can see right there money is going in and a soul is going up to heaven it sounds so crass and you're absolutely right Martin Luther who was a monk and it was a very devout professor of theology was really rubbed the wrong way by people saying that they had bought these indulgences and therefore they were freed of their sins and as a monk Luther felt oppressed by the sinfulness of human nature of his own nature and so the idea that you could pay money to erase those sins and get quicker entry to have it was really an issue for him he took these issues very seriously and really struggled with them and then he did what any good doctor of theology would do he wrote out a series of arguments but in his case he posted them at least according to tradition to the doors of the castle Church in Wittenberg 95 theses 95 arguments that took issue primarily with the selling of indulgences Luther sent them to the local archbishop and they made their way to Rome and so we have the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation in fact if you think about those words Protestant Reformation for just a moment I think it's interesting to note that the word Protestant is formed out of the word protest and Reformation out of the word reform so this was a kind of protest against the church and it was an attempt to reform it you